Archaeological Investigations at Port Arthur

If you’re thinking about heading down to the Port Arthur Historic Site this summer you should make a point of checking out the archaeological investigations at the rear of the Penitentiary.

This summer a team of professional archaeologists are investigating the ablutions and exercise yards, behind the recently refurbished Penitentiary. It's worth checking out.  These investigations are part of the next phase of the works of the Penitentiary and will help to guide the future interpretation of this precinct as an industrial complex and former penitentiary.

The penitentiary structure was originally constructed to be used as a flourmill and granary in the early 1840s.  It was converted to become the main penitentiary building between 1853 and 1857.  These investigations aim to confirm the reality of how this area was used against the historic plans held by Port Arthur, especially as the plans available appear to suggest two different layouts.

They are the largest excavations ever undertaken at Port Arthur and give visitors the opportunity to appreciate the skill, dedication and detail put in to peel back some of the site’s layers of history.  It is hoped that the artefacts and remains of buildings and features will help the site to understand more about the lives of the convicts accommodated here and the buildings they occupied.

PAHSMA archaeologists David Roe and Richard Tuffin are delighted at the excellent state of preservation of the remains that were revealed after the removal of the turf layer.  The wall foundations, areas of brick paving and the virtually intact yard surfaces bode well for recovering new information about both the yard structures and some of the activities that went on in the yard. The latter seems to have included illicit gambling as some of the first artefacts that have been recovered include examples of metal and ceramic gaming pieces.

If you are keen to visit Port Arthur this summer, trench-side talks are on offer at 2.00pm each day, except Saturdays and public holidays, until the end of March 2016.  Alternatively, you can view the dig from Champ Street and imagine what life would have been like for you if you were a convict serving time at the penal settlement of Port Arthur, confined to the Penitentiary in Van Diemen’s Land (VDL) in the 1850s.

For further information on visiting Port Arthur, the Penitentiary and these archaeological investigations check out their website –

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